Student Abroad Spotlight: Tiffany Hilk

In the Fall of 2016 President Len Jessup described the distinctive characteristics of UNLV. Rebels are Different, Daring, and Diverse. Our students exude these attributes in several different ways across campus, in the community, and across the globe.  College of Education’s Tiffany Hilk, an Elementary Education major is currently in Galway, Ireland completing her final graduation requirement of Student Teaching.

Kylemore Abbey. “This photo is a little deceiving because it had just stopped pouring rain and we had to get back on the bus to go home, so this is probably the only photo I managed to get of Kylemore Abbey clearly. They’re currently trying to preserve the Abbey so that’s why half of it is covered in scaffolding.”

Student Teaching is the final semester for the College of Education teaching preparation majors. During this semester, students apply all that they have learned in their classes, projects and practicums while taking the lead role in a classroom and running it as their own.

We will be getting updates from Tiffany throughout her time in Ireland while she completes Student Teaching. In the Meantime, have a look at why she decided to go abroad.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Northern California but raised in Las Vegas since I was two. I graduated from Clark High School in 2012, funny enough for their Academy of Math, Science and Technology program and not their T.E.A.C.H program.

What inspired you to become a teacher?

I have always loved learning and going to school. My goal when I return home is to get a job teaching in Clark County School District. I grew up in the city and I am going to help it to continue to grow. I also want to pursue my Master’s degree at UNLV.

What or who inspired you to Study Abroad?

I wanted to Student Teach abroad to challenge myself to gain a new perspective of the world by experiencing different cultures. I wanted to immerse myself in another culture to experience what challenges a new student could possibly face when moving to a new country. I want to see the diversity within education so that I can find the best possible methods to use within my classroom.  I hope to get a better understanding of various teaching methods and experience different cultures. This is my first international solo trip without my family and let me tell you it is hard because I have such a close knit family. I am very lucky they are supportive of my goals and aspirations. I talk to my family every day.

Why Ireland?

Tiffany at The Cliffs of Moher
“This day was probably the warmest day we had in Ireland. The views here are so surreal and exhilarating. I always wanted to visit the cliffs and let me tell you it did not disappoint.”

Ireland was actually my second choice. My first choice was England but due to some technical issues, I was not allowed to go. I was given the opportunity to come to Ireland instead and I jumped on it! I literally had two weeks to get everything together before I left for Ireland. I now get to share the experience with four other women who are also doing student teaching here. In England I would have been alone, but here we all have each other. Ireland is such a beautiful country with so much to offer. I am so glad I was able to come.

What has surprised you the most about Ireland in your first week?

It may seem weird but it would probably have to be how silent the rain is here. It could be sunny outside but when you look out the window and focus, you can see the rain. It is like a mist at times and other times it can be raining very aggressively.

Name three things you could NOT leave home without?

I would not leave home without a good book, multi-weather coat and my phone. There are a ton of things that I wanted to bring with me on this trip but when you are limited to a fifty pound bag and a carry-on bag, you quickly realize what is important to you.

Any tips for student thinking about studying abroad?

My biggest tip for students thinking about studying abroad is to do your research and be flexible. Know what you are getting yourself into. This is a big choice but if you decide to do it you will find it is going to be one of the best experiences you have.  

For more information about international student teaching, visit our website.

Alum in Action: Giving Local Children & Families a ‘Head Start’

Michael Tomas Mitchell (‘11 M.Ed. Early Childhood Education) is the Executive Director of Acelero Learning Clark County. Acelero Learning provides early childhood education and family engagement services to approximately 1500 Head Start children here in Clark County. Head Start is a Federal program that promotes school readiness for children (aged 0-5) from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social, and emotional development in areas including language and literacy, for example.

Mr. Mitchell obtained a B.S. in Sociology from Brigham Young University before joining Teach for America, where he was assigned to his first choice city: Las Vegas. While here, he entered the College of Education’s Alternate Route to Licensure program, completing an M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education in 2011. He attributes much of his current success to the professors within the College, recalling how they showed him how to be a teacher and leader, how they provided ongoing learning and support in his current role, and how they approached his ARL cohort as, first and foremost, professionals, a distinction he carries into his own approach to adult learning. He also taught courses within the College of Education, which has led to hiring some of his former students for Acelero, perpetuating the College’s impact on the community in meaningful ways.

In his position as Executive Director, Mr. Mitchell is responsible for providing the twelve schools and nearly 300 employees under his supervision with direction and leadership in pursuit of Head Start’s mission of closing the achievement gap and building a better future for children, families, and communities. Acelero’s program has proven successful for many enrolled—Students tested after two years in Acelero programs reach gains that are nearly double average national growth, and are among the largest-known recorded gains for a Head Start program.

Though much of his focus is on student growth and achievement, Michael’s goals and Acelero Learning’s comprehensive nature goes far beyond a focus on child outcomes alone. As such, Mr. Mitchell’s responsibilities also include is also effectively distributing resources at his disposal to where they are most needed, such as getting food to families across Clark County through partnership with Three Square. Acelero also works with families to provide wraparound support out-of-classroom issues, including strategies that assist with student advocacy, finding employment or financial support, and help obtaining a GED or learning English.

Michael is motivated by his own experiences as a young learner without access to sufficient educational resources, as well as by clear research which indicates that access to high quality education is among the top indicators of upward socioeconomic mobility. He is the proud son of a former Head Start student, herself the child of first generation immigrants. Mr. Mitchell recognizes the impact that Head Start had on his family and on his own success. He notes that in some ways he is similar to a doctor—Once he has seen a patient, he hopes not to see them again, as that means they are healthy and thriving. As more students and more generations are impacted Acelero Learning, Michael hopes the need for such programs will fade into memory, allowing him to turn his attention to the next area in which he can make his mark in education.

Developing Leaders Who Transform School Communities

Along with the challenges that accompany keeping a school functioning day-to-day, school principals and administrators must also be equipped to tackle the many issues they’ll face in PK-12 schools in the 21st century—such as combating poor attendance or test scores, effectively educating English language learners, or addressing behavioral problems.

The Educational Policy and Leadership (EPL) program is designed to develop educational leaders who understand the urban environment and the community in which schools exist. Program participants receive a firm foundation of knowledge and skills needed to meet the demands and expectations of school administrators—all within a systems approach for transforming schools within an urban community. In addition, program curriculum is based on the Nevada Educator Performance Framework and Standards for School Administrators. Thus, program participants learn content and develop skills that are expected of their performance as entry-level administrators.

“The talent coming from this program is exceptional,” Dr. Mike Barton, Clark County School District’s (CCSD) chief academic officer said. “I see first-hand that these candidates are well prepared—they think differently, they know how to tackle complex problems facing schools and education, and they keep an instructional leadership focus as they get into their new roles.”

Crucial to this program is the opportunity to put theory into practice with hands-on field experiences within operational schools. During their 36 semester hours of coursework, EPL students are embedded in local schools, where they work with mentor principals to research issues that occur within their school. After cataloguing existing resources available to combat the issue, students then create and implement programs to spur improvements. And the results? They often have impacts that reach far beyond an individual school. As of October 2017, EPL program students and graduates have created 54 school-based intervention projects that impact anywhere from nine to 640 students at each school.

Enrolled students also have the opportunity to learn from and build a network of connections with current, high ranking administrators and employees at the CCSD and other Nevada agencies. The partnership element between UNLV, CCSD, and the Las Vegas community is a key element to the success of the EPL program. Cory Garr, a secondary education teacher in CCSD and EPL student explains that the leaders he’s taken classes from will be the people he calls on when he has questions in his future role as a dean of students. “It’s an incredible opportunity to learn from the administrators who know CCSD inside and out… But what’s really valuable is that when they see me in meetings or around town, they know me by name now,” Garr said.

Welcoming its third cohort of students in January 2017, the Educational Policy and Leadership program continues to grow, simultaneously creating opportunities for graduates while filling much-needed vacancies in administrative roles across the Clark County School District and the state.

For more information on the EPL program, or to apply, visit

The Future of Teaching in Clark County — and the Nation

As the rest of the country becomes as diverse as Las Vegas, UNLV is creating better-than-best practices for our next generation of kids.

BY KIM K. METCALF • Read this article at the UNLV News Center

Rebel Science Camp
March 17, 2017
(Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services)

From the earliest days of our republic, we have believed that education was critical to our democracy. Our founders knew that the health of our country, the wellbeing of the citizenry­ — and particularly the strength of the democracy — would be built on a well-educated population. Though disagreements have been fierce regarding who is to be educated, how much education they need, and whether to measure its value in economic growth, individual growth, or societal growth, fundamentally, we have always agreed that educating our citizens is important.

With this belief in mind, in 1917 our country began a unique experiment: We required education to be available to all of our citizens for free. Now, after a century of well-intended effort and research by countless experts, 17 presidents and their respective agendas, and 50 congresses armed with the education reform du jour, frankly, we’re still experimenting. We still haven’t figured out how to make our educational system work consistently for all children.

How can this be? The past several decades have been filled with announcements that THE new idea — the unequivocal “fix” — for public education has been discovered. “If only we allow parents more choice in selecting their child’s school,” or “find better ways to hold teachers and schools accountable,” or “develop better tests,” or “standardize curriculum,” or “integrate more technology,” or “expand states’ authority.” The list of efforts is long.

Yet, there is very little evidence that these initiatives, individually or collectively, have done much to improve educational outcomes or equity.  Why have these efforts been so fruitless?

Let’s look back for a moment.

Nearly all of these reform approaches are grounded on concepts codified in a single policy document: A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Education Reform. Often credited as the catalyst for a pivotal shift in public education policy, the genuinely innovative concepts in A Nation at Risk changed the way our country, and much of the western world, thought about and approached educating its citizenry.

This genuinely groundbreaking set of ideas was released in — 1983. The same year Motorola unveiled the first hand-held mobile telephone, aptly named “The Brick” for its weight, shape, and size. In the years since, future-focused innovators have pushed the boundaries of technology and engineering in ways that were only vaguely imagined, if imagined at all, by those who clamored to get their cutting edge “Brick.”

Over that same period, the education and policy communities have intensely focused on refining the original concepts presented in A Nation at Risk. From America 2000 in 1991 to No Child Left Behind in 2001 to our most current iteration, Every Student Succeeds, each plan promised to overhaul education from bottom to top.  And, fundamental to these reforms, was the perpetual quest to identify best practices.For 35 years, literally billions of dollars have been invested in massive efforts to find teachers, schools, and states that seemed to be performing better than others, determine what it was they were doing that might explain this, and then implement (or impose) these best practices more broadly.

The problem with best practices is that, by nature, they’re always out of date.

They represent the “best” of what was being done in some place and at some time in the past. At most, they improve achievement of yesterday’s goals; at worst, they actively promote the status quo by continually looking backward rather than forward.

To meet the needs of students in our rapidly evolving world, we must set our sights beyond settling for the best we once knew or even know now. The problems, issues, and needs of yesterday may no longer be relevant, so even the best strategies known to address them may have little consequence to the world of tomorrow. To achieve tomorrow’s outcomes, we must set our sights on developing the next practicesnecessary to serve the future generations and the issues they will face.

The Future Is Here

Since the College of Education’s inception in the very early days of UNLV’s history, one of its major objectives has been to educate and prepare high-quality teachers to serve in Nevada’s schools. But educating our state’s educators is far from the college’s only purpose.

Our faculty have always been engaged in future-focused research to inform policymaking and validate new professional approaches for a new era of students. Notably, research and methods stemming from the Silver State today have intrinsic benefits for far more than just Nevadans.

Many have noted what the a June 22 New York Times piece recently featured: Las Vegas is the future. The population of Southern Nevada today — in terms of race, ethnicity, gender and age — is nearly identical to projections of U.S. demographics in 40 years. In essence, Nevada’s present is America’s future.

For the College of Education, our community provides a “living laboratory” in which to create, research, evaluate, and cultivate the newest strategies — the next practices — that will educate future generations… Made in Nevada, shared from coast to coast and beyond.

Challenging the status quo, our faculty and students have accepted the task to usher in change. Pioneering new research and testing new methods to achieve our nation’s grand promise of equitable education for all citizens is our mission. From studying the benefits of rigorous early childhood education in a fully-inclusive setting, like the Lynn Bennett Early Childhood Development Center, to developing more effective ways to use virtual reality in educator preparation, as in our Interaction and Media Sciences Lab, or improving the use of real-time data to adapt and improve instruction and learning, as in our Metacognition and Motivation in Advanced Learning Technologies Lab, our faculty’s research and findings are shifting the way we, and our peers, approach education and educator preparation.

This focus is bringing UNLV national acclaim as a leader in developing practical solutions to future educational challenges. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) recently featured UNLV as one of four colleges of education leading innovative research partnership programs with their community’s preK-12 schools. The Abriendo Caminos/Opening Pathways program—a UNLV initiative to add more teachers of color to the pipeline—was chosen by the U.S. Department of Education from more than 90 applicants as a focus project for the 2016 Teach to Lead Summit. As a result, we are creating actionable plans for school districts to begin implementing the program in their own, increasingly diverse, schools.

UNLV’s role as education innovators is anchored in being unanchored … We politely refuse to be tied down by what has been established as“the best.” Exactly where this takes us remains to be seen, but knowing there is always more to research, more to study, and new answers to be found, will be what drives us into the future. We will always strive for what’s better than the world’s presumed “best.”